The Obama Effect

Obama is leading in the polls, true.  And he does have a tentative lead in the electoral college (though, how big of a lead is as variable, if not more variable, than his lead in the national trends).  It’s important to note, though, that while the Obama lead is irrefutable, it’s not insurmountable.

And yet, the Obama campaign actually believes it can win the election in a landslide.

There are contradictions at work here.  Right now, the polling does not indicate a landslide, and at least in recent presidential elections, the race tends to tighten as opposed to open up as we draw closer to election day.

Further, there is the possibility that the Bradley effect (Black politicians underperforming in the polls) may come into play on November 4th.

On the other hand, you have the Obama effect, which goes straight to the heart of the belief that the Obama campaign can take this election by a landslide.  The Bradley Effect, and what I call the Obama Effect, are not opposites, but they are opposing forces in this instance.

The Bradley Effect shows black politicians underperforming due to an unwillingness of white voters to tell a pollster they won’t vote for the black politician out of embarrassment.  In the Obama Effect, however, we see the candidate outperforming polls but for different reasons.

In Obama’s case, during the Democratic primaries his ability to outperform polls has been documented and discussed time and again.  Indeed, he would go on to outperform polls by about seven points.  My hypothesis suggests that this ability to outpace the polls is grounded in three basic areas.

  1. Gaining support among voters who do not make it through likely voter filters.
  2. Support among voters who are normally not sampled by pollsters (ie. voters who only use cell phones and don’t have a landline).
  3. Extensive ground game, registration efforts, and GOTV efforts that can move faster than the polling process, and make it difficult for pollsters to balance their demographic samples.

The Obama campaign feels confident that it is currently outperforming the polls at this time, and I’m inclined to believe they are for the three basic reasons indicated above.  I frequently talk about the first two factors, but I wanted to spend a little anecdotal time on the third for a bit.

I’m not a fan of anecdotal evidence, but especially in this context, the perception is significant.

I took my family yesterday to the Neptune Festival.  The Neptune Festival, held on the boardwalk in Virginia Beach, is held every year at the end of summer; it’s a kind of closing celebration of the end of beach days and the coming of autumn.  It’s also a celebration of the leaving of the tourists when the locals get to take back the beach.

It’s also important to note that Virginia Beach, most of which falls under Virginia’s 2nd district, is traditionally Republican.

And yet, I couldn’t help but be impressed with just the presence that the Democratic party had on the closing day of the festival.  There were Obama shirts and buttons everywhere; not only the official campaign produced gear either, but home made swag worn with pride.  On top of this, there were several groups of Obama canvass groups roaming up and down the boardwalk, and each time I saw them I was impressed with how well they were being received.  Later in the day, Glenn Nye, who is currently running against congresswoman Thelma Drake, was also there in person glad handing the people of Virginia Beach.

There was even an “Obama 08” etched into one of the sand sculptures at the sand castle building contest (My wife took a picture, if I remember I’ll try and post it).

As for McCain; there was absolutely no presence whatsoever.  There’s a trend at work here, as well.  Around the time of the Republican convention, the only bumper stickers I ever saw were for McCain, but in the following weeks I’ve seen Obama stickers becoming increasingly more prominent.  A few weeks ago, the only political ads I’ve experienced were radio ads for McCain.  Those ads are gone now, but I’ve seen the Obama one minute ad a couple of times.

This is, I remind you, all anecdotal, but in this case, the perception is vital.  People like to be courted for their votes, and right now, at least in this Republican part of Virginia, it feels as though Obama is doing all the courting, and McCain is nowhere to be found.

This is all to say that the Obama ground game is truly up, running, and working on all cylinders, and I think it’s going to feed into the greater Obama effect that I outlined earlier, and if it works the way I think it will work, that landslide that the polls don’t show now, may actually happen.

5 Responses to “The Obama Effect”

  1. Dynamic says:

    I drive a delivery truck all day in my new job (part of why you haven’t seen me around as much) and I can attest to the prevalence of Obama stickers in the past couple of weeks. Definitely a marked increase over a very short time.

  2. Hey man! Nice to see your face in the place still. Was wonderin’ where you went of to. Yeah, I think you’re seeing signs of the ground game really coming alive, particularly in the places where it matters most.

  3. DrGail says:

    FWIW, I came across this article regarding the Bradley Effect (or the Wilder Effect, as the author calls it), providing data analysis that suggests the effect largely disappeared around the time welfare reform was completed.

    The phenomenon of Obama’s primary vote totals exceeding the polls was what led me to postulate the “Reverse Bradley Effect” in the post to which you linked.

    Political scientists and social psychologists will have a field day reviewing the data from this election cycle, that’s for sure!

  4. susan says:

    The major shortcoming of the current system of electing the President is that presidential candidates concentrate their attention on a handful of closely divided “battleground” states. In 2004 two-thirds of the visits and money were focused in just six states; 88% on 9 states, and 99% of the money went to just 16 states. Two-thirds of the states and people were merely spectators to the presidential election. Candidates have no reason to poll, visit, advertise, organize, campaign, or worry about the voter concerns in states where they are safely ahead or hopelessly behind. The reason for this is the winner-take-all rule under which all of a state’s electoral votes are awarded to the candidate who gets the most votes in each separate state.

    Another shortcoming of the current system is that a candidate can win the Presidency without winning the most popular votes nationwide. This has occurred in one of every 14 presidential elections.

    In the past six decades, there have been six presidential elections in which a shift of a relatively small number of votes in one or two states would have elected (and, of course, in 2000, did elect) a presidential candidate who lost the popular vote nationwide.

    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

    The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 21 state legislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, and Washington, and both houses in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These four states possess 50 electoral votes — 19% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


  5. honestly loved reading your blog post, excellent work. Keep it up!!!

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